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October 06, 2008

Tibetan Tourism Suffers

Tibet's tourist trade is still feeling the aftershocks of the riots and crackdown despite a government campaign to bring 'em in, according to the International Herald Tribune. (The price tag for visiting the Potala Palace will not go up until May 2009, for example.) Travel analysts, whoever they are, predict big things for China's tourism at some point in the vague and unknowable future (i.e. More »
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October 06, 2008

The Feast

Sometimes when I think things are going my way, they aren’t. And when I fail to notice this it’s usually because I’m not paying sufficient attention. It’s much better to keep watch over events as they unfold than to form doubtful impressions of them. That way I’m given a chance to notice that things aren’t necessarily the way I think they are. The fact is that life refuses to be shaped into conformity with my own hopeful version of events. There’s humility, gentleness, even wisdom that comes with the discovery of personal limits. I know all this, and yet I sometimes forget that my happy imaginings exercise no necessary influence over the way events actually unfold. That’s when I’m most likely to think I have things under control, failing to notice indications that suggest otherwise. For three years now, I’ve served as Senior Buddhist Chaplain at High Desert State Prison, a maximum-security prison in Susanville, California. The Buddhist inmates at the prison had been without a teacher for more than four years at the time, and so I was asked if I would please come. I had my plans pretty well mapped out at the time and didn’t really want to undertake another responsibility. Furthermore, High Desert State Prison is on the east side of the Sierra Nevada Range, a two-and-a-half-hour drive from the west side town of Chico where I live. I said I’d think it over. The decision was taken out of my hands the day I first laid eyes on the prison complex and met the first of my potential students, most of whom are serving life sentences. After passing through the outer perimeter of the prison with its lethal web of electrically charged wiring and after negotiating a seemingly endless series of electronically controlled gates that opened and shut behind me, I finally arrived on a catwalk outside cell C5–218 where I peered through a thin slit of a window at the face of a nineteen-year-old Asian boy who was serving a sentence for first-degree murder and wouldn’t even be considered for parole until he was in his mid-fifties. I told him who I was and what I’d come for. At first he seemed confused by the information, wondering what my appearance at his cell meant for him. But then, he suddenly brightened, a smile breaking out on his face, and he asked, ”Are you my teacher?” And without a thought for the consequences, I said, “Yes, I’m your teacher,” “Are we going to have Buddhist services?” “We’ll have services,” I told him. And so for all my plans to the contrary, life had turned me in a direction the difficulties and blessings of which I could never have foretold. More »
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October 01, 2008

The Image(s) of Tibet

The Epoch Times (founded by members of Falun Gong; here's their About Us page) has just concluded its four-part talk with Ms. Zhu Rui, a Han Chinese woman who has spent time in Tibet. It's called "The Distorted Image of Tibet". Don't expect perfect impartiality, but it is interesting: When we arrived in Tibet, I found that everything was different: the language, the clothing, the buildings, the religious sites—and I liked them all. As I was strolling down Barkhor Street—the busiest shopping street in Lhasa—I was totally absorbed. The earthen jars, the stringed flags, thang-ga paintings, turquoise necklaces, and costumes all amazed me. More »
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October 01, 2008

Slow Recovery in Cyclone Zone

Aid is dwindling for victims of the cyclone who remain extremely vulnerable to another catastrophic storm: It is five months since Cyclone Nargis tore across the Irrawaddy delta and the city of Rangoon. On the face of it, the catastrophe has been brought under control. After early obstruction by Burma's military Government, a large international aid effort has relieved the worst effects of the disaster and begun the job of rebuilding. Food, medicines and shelter are flowing into the delta, with no secondary disaster from hunger or disease, as many had feared. Outside Burma, the catastrophe is a fading memory; after a surge of donations in the early weeks, new funds for aid groups have dwindled to a trickle. But the cyclone is still doing its damage — to livelihoods, education and health, as well as through the terror lingering in the minds of those who survived it. More »
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September 30, 2008

Burma calls sanctions unfair and immoral, then makes more arrests

Burma says the sanctions leveled at it are unfair and immoral: Burmese foreign minister U Nyan Win told the United Nations General Assembly yesterday that Burma could enhance regional energy and food security if sanctions against the country were lifted. Nyan Win told the assembly during its annual general debate that it was the most vulnerable people, such as women and children, who were worst affected by the sanctions. “Unilateral sanctions are also against international law,” a UN statement quoted him as saying. Meanwhile Amnesty International calls out the junta for re-arresting people released just days ago, such as U Win Htein, a 66-year-old close associate of Aung San Suu Kyi. More »
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September 29, 2008

Dharma Combat!

The Worst Horse points us to another round in the Hardcore Zen - Big Mind knockdown drag-out dharma combat. Brad's post here. More »
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September 29, 2008

Buddhist Leaders Urge You to Get Political

[Names added 9/25/08, 9/26/08, 9/29/08, 10/20/08] When a society comes together and makes decisions in harmony, when it respects its most noble traditions, cares for its most vulnerable members, treats its forests and lands with respect, then it will prosper and not decline...” - Mahaparinirvana sutra Whatever your political beliefs, your active informed citizenship is a part of a wise household practice. We are at a critical juncture in American history, with major decisions to make about the global environment, economics, foreign policy and social justice, decisions that will deeply affect all of us for generations ahead. We urge you to engage, respectfully, and to act on your values: register voters, go to work in swing states, support what you believe to be wise social action and enlist others to join you in your work. More »
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September 29, 2008

What will the 21st century taste like?

According to Momofuku chef David Chang, it will taste like veggies: At the table, this means our plates will be heavier on grains and greens, and meat will shift from the center of the dish to a supporting role--the role it's played throughout history in most of the world's cuisines. More »
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September 29, 2008

Monks Stage Protest in Burma

100 monks staged a peaceful protest in Sittwe in western Burma to mark the anniversary of the crackdown. This mind-bogglingly courageous act will not go unpunished. Cue the jackbooted thugs. Monks in Pungo are fighting the power too, but here they can use lawyers. Only Buddhists can now head up the Mahabodhi Society according to a recent rules change. The Society was founded in Sri Lanka but soon moved to Indian soil with the help and support of the Indian government. Critics call the move political and say it will primarily benefit Sri Lanka. More »
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September 26, 2008

Bomb Blast in Burma

A bomb blast in Rangoon on the anniversary of the crackdown and a second one defused. Seven people reported wounded. More »
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September 26, 2008

Global Peace Index 2008

Iceland is first overall. The U.S. is in the bottom third. Among countries where Buddhism is a major influence on the culture, Japan and Bhutan top the list. More »
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September 26, 2008

Quake hits Tibet and Nepal

A 6.0 earthquake hit the Tibet-Nepal border -- where a quake also hit in August. No word on casualties in the thinly populated area. The Chinese delegation left the Czech parliament building in Prague after the Green party delegates unfurled a Tibetan flag. More »
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September 24, 2008

Reading Burma

Last night on the anniversary (roughly speaking) of the Saffron Revolution, Tricycle's managing editor Alex Kaloyanides and I were privileged to attend Reading Burma: A Benefit for Cyclone Relief and Freedom of Expression in Burma/Myanmar. The evening was presented by PEN American Center, the Burma Project of the Open Society Institute, and The New York Review of Books. Supporting organizations were Cooper Union, which hosted the event in its Great Hall, where Lincoln once spoke, and Tricycle: The Buddhist Review. Salman Rushdie gave the opening remarks on behalf of PEN American Center and also read from the poetry of U Tin Moe. Other speakers included Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, who was the U.N.'s Special Rapporteur on human rights to Burma, the Venerable U Gawsita, who was one of the protest leaders, and Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk. A group of Burmese monks reciting the Metta Sutta wrapped things up. It was a great evening with lots of eye-opening footage from the protests and crackdown, and heartbreaking eyewitness accounts from Nargis -- alongside absurd, almost laughable official government reports of the same situations. The event raised more than $13,000 for cyclone relief. Special mention was made of U Win Tin's release, but of course the struggle continues. Pictures after the jump -- click to see larger versions. More »
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September 23, 2008

Voting Buddhist?

As the American and Canadian elections approach, there's been much discussion among North American Buddhists over how Buddhism relates to politics.  Among many converts to Buddhism, at least those willing to speak publicly on the matter, there's a near unanimity that Buddhists must vote for Barack Obama because he is the only candidate whose views and policies align with good Dharma.  The current issue of Shambhala Sun has an article extolling the revolutionary presence of Obama on the Democratic ticket, and while it doesn't explicitly endorse him, the overwhelmingly positive way in which he is discussed leaves little doubt as to where the More »
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September 23, 2008

Burma Says It Freed 9,000 Prisoners Today

Including the country's longest-serving political prisoner, the writer (and friend of Aung San Suu Kyi) Win Tin. Most of those freed were not political prisoners but rather conventional prisoners. Still it is something. But: “When the government wants to reduce the pressure coming from foreign countries, especially during the United Nations General Assembly, they release prisoners,” said Bo Kyi, head of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Myanmar. Some 37 activists have been arrested this month alone, Mr. Bo Kyi said. Win Tin will continue to wear his blue prison uniform as a sign of protest. He was kept in solitary confinement for most of the nineteen years he spent behind bars. More »
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September 23, 2008

Bush voices concern for Dalai Lama; Tibetan Parliament to discuss future of Tibetan movement

President Bush, apparently tired of mowing down plastic army men with rubber bands, called the Dalai Lama and expressed concern for his health, which is a very nice gesture. The Dalai Lama canceled an upcoming visit to Germany and Switzerland due to health concerns, but is currently reported to be recuperating well from his earlier illness. At the Dalai Lama's wish, the Tibetan parliament in exile is convening an emergency session in November to discuss the future of the movement: Samdhong Rinpoche, the Kalon Tripa or prime minister of Tibet's government in exile, tells VOA News this year's events have created a seismic shift. "Since March 2008 there have been a lot of protests and, then, international sympathy. A great change has been taking place during these days. More »
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September 19, 2008

Monks with guns?

A new article hosted at The Buddhist Channel discusses militant developments among Burma's young monks.  Some are beginning to question the usefulness of nonviolent tactics in their struggles with the country's repressive ruling regime.  According to the article, some monks are considering taking up guns against their enemies.  In response, a number of Buddhist blogs (mainly by Westerners) have objected to the idea of armed monks. Leaving aside the question of whether it is strategically sound for Burma's monks to take up arms at this moment, it is worth acknowledging that coordinated violence by Buddhist monks is hardly a new phenomenon.  Monastic armies, often directed by the heads of major lineages or temples, have played important historical roles in such places as Tibet, Japan, and Korea.  These soldier-monks were most often employed in pitched battle against rival monasteries or forms of Bud More »
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September 17, 2008

Tales of Prisoner Abuse in China

Chinese citizens who came to the capital to protest government policy are still in jail ten days later, the New York Times reports. One of the detainees is a 79-year-old woman. China sais it would allow protest in designated areas during the Olympics, but then arrested protesters before they could get media attention. The detainees may have a long wait: two documentary filmakers were held prisoner in Tibet for six months for interviewing people in restive Amdo province. And a monk tells the AP he was interrogated and tortured for two months by Chinese authorities. His crime? Speaking to foreign media. More »
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September 16, 2008

Burmese Activist Honored

Burmese activist Bo Kyi received an award for his humanitarian work by Human Rights Watch for his work in getting political prisoners of the junta freed. More »
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September 16, 2008

Saffron Revolution Commemoration

Sasana Moli, the International Buddhist Monks Association, will commemorate the one-year anniversary of the Saffron Revolution outside the United Nations in New York on September 26th. More »